Jump to content

Wikimedia Conference 2014/Documentation/12

From Meta, a Wikimedia project coordination wiki

12 Conflict of interest (COI) workshop

Group discussions
Group discussions

tl;dr: A conflict of interest is not the end of the world. Don't stop projects just because of this. Get in discussions with your board, your community and find ways to manage a conflict. Best solutions to avoid conflict of interests is communicating about them openly and being transparent. To identify where there is a potential conflict, first identify two elements: (1) What is the benefit? and (2) What is the relationship of the person receiving the benefit? This will help you understand how to manage a potential conflict of interest.


Stephen gives some context of benefit and relations. Board members have the duty and the possibility to make decisions. He gives also some details for sense of COI policies and advices to contact lawyers of the respective locals laws. He gives some samples of ways to manage COI situations, including:

  1. Actively disclose facts that could create a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest;
  2. Make reasonable decisions that are in the best interest of your organization;
  3. Ensure that a person with a conflict refrains from influence over a situation (including recusal from voting, leaving the room for a discussion, etc); or
  4. Follow your organization and the movement's established COI policies (for example, see Guidelines on potential conflicts of interest).

Asaf opened the workshop part, people should stick in groups, they should not be in groups with own board members.

Abstracts with 4 scenarios, first get talked together.

Discussion in groups of sample scenarios[edit]

handout with the four scenarios discussed

Services for an event[edit]

(See Scenario 1 in the handout)

The Conflict[edit]

  • The benefit is that group is determining who they will hire for catering services. Hiring and payment are a financial benefit.
  • The relationship is that the catering company is owned by a board member's brother.

Managing the conflict[edit]

  • The board member should actively disclose that the catering company is owned by his brother, so that the board can evaluate the potential conflict of interest with all the appropriate facts.
  • The board should determine that hiring the catering company is a reasonable decision for the organization. The board may wish to consider competing bids, to be sure that the price is appropriate.
  • It is important for the conflicted board member to recuse from the decision, to avoid any undo influence over the board's evaluation, or the perception that he or his family is receiving a private benefit.

Writing competition about Fictionville[edit]

(scenario #2 in the handout)

The Conflict[edit]

  • The benefit is increased exposure to information about the city, which of interest to the city both of itself but also as potentially generating more incoming tourism.
  • The relation is that a volunteer board member of Wikimedia Fictionland is participating in decision-making about creating this benefit for the city of Fictionville, his daytime employer.
  • An additional potential layer of conflict: this project and the benefit it brings to the city could potentially confer a personal career benefit to the employee.
    • Note: concerns about actual content on Wikipedia, such as removal of critical or unflattering content about Fictionville as part of this project, are not a governance issue (unless actually part of the agreed-upon partnership), but a Wikipedia content-policy issue, and should be treated according to existing on-wiki policy, e.g. w:WP:COI

Managing the conflict[edit]

  • It is definitely appropriate to disclose (to the general membership and/or the general public) the duties of the involved board member beforehand, whatever decision is being made. The board should not assume the precise affiliations of each board member are common knowledge among the membership or the public.
  • It is important to ensure the interests of the Wikimedia organization are the ones guiding the decision. Therefore, creating distance between the board member who works for the city and the decision-making is crucial.
  • This can sometimes be achieved via recusal by the involved board member
  • In other cases, it may be felt or perceived that even if the involved board member does not actually vote or participate in the discussion, the influence on other board members or collegial sentiments may bias the decision.
    • One way to address that is to delegate the decision to some advisory body, either a subcommittee of the board, or an ad-hoc advisory group selected from chapter members, or an on-wiki community consultation, or an invited expert, etc. This can be done even if formally the decision still needs to be made by the board; the benefit of delegation is that the board can base its decision on an independent recommendation that's free of the perception of conflict of interest.
  • It is good practice to document the board's discussions about the conflict of interest (i.e. not just the discussions about the substance of the decision, but also the discussion about the process, including a clear statement of the [potential] conflict of interest and how the board is choosing to manage it).

Working at a GLAM institution, creating a GLAM partnership[edit]

  • carefulness should happen, documentation of potential should be written down
  • tiny museum of a speacial topic: where is the conflict then? what changes?
  • conflict of interest of the wikipedia side possible
  • if there are only two GLAM parternships possible per year, then changes: inclination of the community propensity
  • it depens on the benefit of Wikimedia and the projects, if there is a communty with deep interests and and power, then it may be important to do
  • key question is: where are the liaisons?
  • there are good reasons to make partnership with the tiny museum
  • conflict is simliar to the second one

Producing a free classical music event for Commons[edit]

  • conflict: using the brand, technic base for people would not having normal
  • benefit: non financial benefit for an artist, opertunities for composers
  • notability is a Commons conflict
  • artist benefit
  • different ways of view appear, one will do, one will not...
  • "artistic benefit"
  • government issue is the conflict and makes is difficult
  • solutions: externs decide, comparison of relevance
  • scenario: board member pays, that his part will also be performed: the board should evaluate - is this a good thing for the moment, work with documentation, important is: is this benificial
  • changes the community aspect, not the governance than (last version)e


conclusion: do not stop projects just by fearing an COI, get in discussion and find ways to solve, if a COI seems to appear or could appear. use intra-chapter communications! help each other and communicate. Important is transparence - so things get clear and good decisions can be made. many people could proof, if there is a benefit. Tool: if there is no relation but benefit, it could be no conflict of interests :D